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Uniquely Aligned “Little Women” taught me how to be a real woman

Dec. 30, 2019
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I genuinely cannot put together the right words to fully explain what Greta Gerwig’s Little Women means to me. The story itself is too great to describe with words. It has embedded itself in me ever since I first read it. I can’t find the words to say why, but it has. And since Greta Gerwig, my all-time favorite writer and director, translated the novel into the magical film that it is, I can’t think of any other conclusion except that it was made for me and me only. (Although I know that’s not realistic.)

I called it my favorite film before I even saw it. It was my favorite when I first heard the news of it being made; it was my favorite when the cast list was released; it was my favorite when the trailer came out; it was my favorite when I heard the score. But when I saw the film, it was more than a favorite, more than a liking—it was love. Love in the real way, in the in-love way, in the way I love a person. I love this film like it is a friend. 

I love it because it taught me. It made things very clear to me—things about being a woman, things about being a sister and a person. There were ideas I needed to understand about existing that I didn’t fully get before seeing this movie. It feels like Greta is a kindred soul to me, although I’m sure she feels that way to many. But I feel some very strong connection to the way she thinks and the way she says the things she thinks—in very plain language, but in a way that makes you feel and really want to understand how she feels. The way she translated this story changed the way I understand everything. 

The film felt like a collection of pieces of advice to me. It was like Little Women knew who I was and where I was, instructing me on how to move forward. And I wholeheartedly intend to live up to it. 

The story, put plainly, is about sisters. It’s about loving them, and hating them, but not really hating them at all. I have two sisters, and there are ups and most certainly downs. During our childhood, we fought nearly every day—usually about stolen clothes or broken toys. We always made up, but we felt a lot of anger. Tears, screaming, the constant shouts of “MOM!” ringing through the house. It’s different now, me being the only one home. When I see them now, it’s too much of a gift to be angry at all. 

But being a sister is still a struggle, in that sometimes it feels like you’re not one anymore at all. We’ve grown up, we’ve separated—all we have now is holidays and text messages. I hate that we’ll probably never live together again. Our childhood is over, and sometimes it feels as if our sisterhood is too. But what I learned, in the film and in life, is that sisterhood, truly, is never over. It’s not over when one moves away; it’s not over when you have a horrible fight; it’s not even over when you lose one. Sisterhood is an ever-changing thing, but it’s never, ever gone. 

I know what it’s like to be a woman, of course, because I am one. But in many ways, I didn’t know what it meant to be a remarkable one. I didn’t know what it meant to be an independent woman because all my life I’ve been intent on falling in love someday. And for some reason, the idea has been fixed in my head that an independent woman can’t want to love or be loved. Jo March, the most independent a woman can get, advised me otherwise in her own way. She’s set on not marrying or falling in love, and she even goes as far as to wish the same on her sisters. She’s content with her family in the most beautiful way, and she hates the idea of her sisters leaving her for a husband one day. As she comes to be the last in the house, in her loneliness, she says to her mother, “I just feel… I just feel like… women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying love is all a woman is fit for—I’m so sick of it! But…I’m so lonely.”

It’s okay to be lonely, it’s okay to want things and to want to be loved. Hearing and seeing Jo break down like this hurts. But it also feels honest. Alcott, Greta, Jo—maybe all the same—reminded me that to be an independent woman doesn’t mean you can’t break down, feel lonely, or want to be loved. That idea isn’t all that commercialized these days, but it’s oh-so important, and I feel indebted to the three of them for bringing it to my attention. I feel stronger because of it. It’s funny that the modern realization that a woman can be weak makes me, and I’m sure others, feel stronger.

I’m reminded of Before Sunrise when Celine says, “I always feel this pressure of being a strong and independent icon of womanhood, and without making it look like my whole life is revolving around some guy. But loving someone, and being loved, means so much to me. We always make fun of it and stuff, but isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” 

I learned that unrequited love has its purposes as well. The heartbreaking scene of Laurie and Jo on the hill illustrates it better than anything. No person who has gone through the agonizing and miserable journey of unrequited love can hold it together after hearing Laurie say, “I think you will marry Jo. I think you’ll find someone and love them, and you will live and die for them because that’s your way, and you will…and I’ll watch.” It’s painful because it’s honest, and relatable, and lived. And although some people are upset he doesn’t end up with Jo, somehow I’m not. And as a romantic, I should. But I think Jo was right when she said she doesn’t love him as she should, and I think Laurie was right when he said that the love he feels for Amy is different. I think every little thing has a purpose, and Laurie was meant to be with Amy. Just as a different love comes out of every unrequited love. 

I’ve had so many violent passions in my life—often short-lived. I find myself too idle and too satisfied to really work at them. If it hasn’t already been assumed, I feel very attached to Jo March, and in the film, I was completely amazed by the way she writes. It’s everything about it, of course—the way she works all day and night, the way her writing covers the room—but there’s one thing in particular. She handwrites everything, as they did in that time, and when her hand cramps up, when she can’t go any longer, she switches hands. 

This tiny little detail, genuinely, I think, has changed my life. I want to fight for my passions, work for the things I want, and live for the things I love. The last thing I would think of myself is that I’m too easily satisfied. I have the highest expectations of anyone I know—how could I be? But truly, I am. I’m too satisfied with an essay per month, with writing in a journal only when I think to. I call myself a writer because I want to be a writer, and I’m ashamed because I have hardly even tried. Why want to be a writer in the future when you can be a writer now? I want to write until I cannot push the pen onto the paper or the keys on the computer any longer. And then, I’ll switch hands and keep writing. 

One of my favorite things to do when I fall in love with a film is to read the screenplay. Someday, God willing, I will write films and make films. I’ve always wanted to, but I never thought I could. A friend from years ago told me, “Movies are just stories. You don’t need a fancy camera to tell a story, but fancy cameras desperately need stories.” Those words were the first thing to make me believe I might really be able to do it. And for reasons I don’t know, Greta Gerwig was the one who’s made it feel truly possible to me. Reading her screenplays makes me feel very, very able, and that’s a wonderful thing to feel.

Reading the script, as Gerwig introduces the past world we often travel back to as viewers, she writes that the girls are “in the snow globe of girlhood and memory that is ever present but forever gone.” Coming to the end of the decade and the end of my high school experience, her words hit the spot in my heart right where it hurts the most—right where it’s needed. The memories that make you feel so happy and sad that you’re sick to your stomach, they’re all there, all the time. They never leave you, of course. But they’re also forever gone. And that hurts so very badly. But it’s something to be accepted—otherwise, we’re stuck in time wishing we could go back to a world we never can. We have to move forward. I have to move forward. 

I cry every year on my birthday, every Christmas, every major milestone. I’ve begun crying about graduation in May, and leaving my friends in the coming August. I have the hardest time—the slowest, most painful time—letting go of the past. Letting go of my 17th year in March will hurt; letting go of my time living in my hometown this summer will hurt. The snow globe of girlhood, of high school, of being a teenager, it will be forever gone. But it will also be ever present as I go on.

Little Women is for girls, women, boys, and men. I dragged my entire family, grandparents and all, to see this. My dad, who has three sisters and three daughters, cried with me the whole time. When we got home, he said, “You know, I have so many questions. And I don’t know how to ask them, or when to ask them, but I have so many.” 

I’ve seen the film twice already within the past four days. I’m planning on seeing it again tomorrow. And although it may be too soon to say, it changed my life. It has and it will. This story—a story of women, of sisters, and of the space they fill in this world—will always be present in my life. I’ll always look at my oldest sister and wish I could live closer to her again. I’ll always look at the other and wish we had more time to laugh and fight near each other. I’ll always wish my family could stay together until we die and move onto eternity. But I know how the world works. And I know what I must do: move forward, love, work hard, and live. I must keep living throughout it all, throughout everything. There’s nothing else I can do but live.